Words by Emma Kay
Photographing beauty in decay is trend that's never really left the photography world and there are several websites out there dedicated to it. However, there a few dangers that come with the subject, including facing prosecution if you don't seek permission
, so be aware of the risks, respect the buildings and make sure you're not breaking any laws before you head off on your venture.
Even though a building is abandoned and forgotten about that doesn't mean someone doesn't own it. You don't want to upset people, particularly the police, so try to find out about a property before you go exploring in it and seek permission
before you enter to take your photos - you don't want to face prosecution for trespassing after all. Most of the time you'll find most people are very obliging simply because you took the time to ask them. If a building or site is owned by the national trust or the council you can write to them to ask permission to take photos of a particular site. We do not condone trespassing in anyway so if you can't get access, don't go in! Brilliant shots can still be taken of the outside of the building and its surrounding area without stepping foot on the property, you just need a longer lens.
Sometimes, the reason you are stopped from going on the land is because there is a danger of you hurting yourself. Many old buildings have rotten timbers so venturing upstairs, for example, could lead to you seriously hurting yourself as you could fall through the floor. If you find a building that's not fenced up and you've got permission to shoot there, you'll still need to watch your step, and always take a friend with you in case something does happen and you need help. Often these derelict houses are in the middle of nowhere and so it might be difficult to summon help if anything did happen and you were on your own. Don't forget that some buildings are shut off for health reasons too. For example, they could be full of asbestos so don't just go walking around a building before you know what's there. Finally, watch what you stand on as a lot of rubbish, including used syringes and other not very nice items can get left behind when a building has stood empty for a long time.
Yes, it may already be falling apart with graffiti on the walls, but there is no need to add to this with any litter. Try not to move things around too much too as often old things are fragile.
Make sure you wear a good pair of sturdy trainers or walking boot with a good grippy sole - often in these houses the floors are damp, covered with debris and are uneven, so minimise your chances of slipping. Wear old clothes, too, as they're likely to get dusty as you work your way around the property. Some people wear masks and gloves could be handy too.
What to photograph?
Often shots with windows look good, because the dust reflects the sunlight in beams, creating a really atmospheric, old feel. Peeling paint or wallpaper can also look great as it is coming away from the wall or a door. If you can get close to the wall, fill the frame with it as these types of shots make excellent textures that you can use in Photoshop. Old furniture adds a spooky feel to the photo, as it confirms that people used to live there so it makes the photo that much more real. If you're in an urban area, graffiti can often add another layer of interest to your shots too.
As long as you are careful, seek permission and respect the building you're photographing, there are lots of brilliant photography opportunities in decaying houses and buildings. Have fun, but stay safe.
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